The President of the Republic of Singapore, Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam, visited the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch on the Berlin-Buch Campus on June 28, 2012. The MDC, which celebrates its 20<sup>th</sup> birthday this year, is renowned as one of the world’s best research institutions. Dr. Tan is visiting Germany on the invitation of the German President Joachim Gauck. He is accompanied by the Minister of State for Health, Ms. Dr. Amy Khor, the Ambassador of Singapore in Germany, Mr. Jacky Foo and two Members of Parliament, Ms. Foo Mee Har and Mr. Vikraim Nair.
Dr. Tan is a physicist and mathematician and began his career as a university lecturer before he went into politics. At the MDC he was informed about the synergy of basic research, clinical research and biotechnology. In his welcome address Professor Walter Rosenthal, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Scientific Director of the MDC, pointed out that the MDC is located in the “medical city” of Berlin-Buch. Here more than 2000 people work in research institutes; over 3000 people work in the various hospitals and clinics, and almost 800 people work in companies in the biotech park. In the 20 years of its existence the MDC has developed into an internationally recognized research center. “MDC ranked 14<sup>th</sup> on the Thomson Reuters list of the world’s “top twenty” research institutions in the field of molecular biology and genetics,” he said. Moreover, just recently the MDC was evaluated by an international panel of experts and given the top mark, an “outstanding”.
“The collaboration with clinics, especially with the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is essential for the MDC,” Professor Rosenthal emphasized and went on to mention that the institutional cooperation shall be intensified. Together with the Charité, the MDC runs an Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) on the Berlin-Buch Campus in which basic researchers and clinicians collaborate closely in projects.
Visit to the Laboratory of Professor Thomas Jentsch of the MDC / FMP
Dr. Tan also visited the laboratory of the physician and physicist Professor Thomas Jentsch (MDC/Leibniz Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie, FMP). The Leibniz Award winner investigates ion channels and their role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, impaired hearing as well as bone and kidney diseases. Just recently, together with Professor Gary Lewin (MDC) and clinicians in Spain and the Netherlands, he discovered that humans with a specific form of inherited impaired hearing /deafness have more tactile sensitivity in their fingers and perceive vibrations more clearly than other people.
A few years ago Professor Jentsch and his staff have launched a completely new research field in the area of ion transport. From the electric organ of the Torpedo marmorata, they identified and isolated the gene for a voltage-dependent chloride channel. Since then, nearly a dozen different genes for related chloride channels have also been discovered in mammals and humans with varying functions in the tissues and cells. Thus, working with human geneticists, Professor Jentsch was able to show that a mutation in such a chloride channel causes several inherited forms of muscle stiffness (myotonia congenita). Furthermore, together with his research group, he succeeded in uncovering the function of two other chloride channels. When defective, these channels lead to massive loss of salt, sometimes accompanied by deafness, or kidney stones and renal protein loss. His group has further shown that mutations in other chloride transporters lead to thick bones (osteopetrosis) and neurodegeneration in mice and humans. In addition, he discovered that mutations in specific potassium channels are the cause of a certain form of neonatal epilepsy and a dominantly inherited progressive form of deafness.
MDC and FMP
The MDC was founded in January 1992 after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and is the successor of three institutes of the GDR Academy of Sciences. It focuses on the research areas of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, cancer as well as on diseases of the nervous system. It is one of 18 research institutions of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, the largest research organization in Germany. The MDC, like all Helmholtz institutions, is funded to 90 percent by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and to 10 percent by the state in which it is headquartered, in this case Berlin.
The FMP was also founded in 1992. It is the successor of the "Institut für Wirkstoffforschung", an Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde. In 2000 it moved to the Berlin-Buch Campus. Research activities at the FMP focus on proteins as basic structures of all living cellular organisms. The FMP is a member of the Leibniz Association and receives its funding from both the Federal Government and the State of Berlin (50% respectively).